Programmer Arrested in Alleged AdSense Extortion Plot

A 32-year-old California man has been charged with extortion for allegedly demanding Google pay him for software designed to defraud its AdSense program.

Special agents from the United States Secret Service arrested Michael Anthony Bradley of Oak Park, Calif. last week after Bradley allegedly met with Google engineers and demanded they pay him $100,000. Bradley allegedly threatened to release the software to spammers if he didn’t receive payment, according to the criminal complaint. Bradley is charged with interfering with commerce by threats or violence and with mail fraud.

The software, which Bradley dubbed Google Clique, was designed to produce fraudulent clicks and impressions on the Web sites of participants in Google’s AdSense program. AdSense allows publishers to receive a cut of what advertisers pay Google when consumers click on advertisements displayed on their sites. Fraudulent clicks would therefore allow AdSense publishers to rake in more dough.

Google officials said they couldn’t comment on criminal proceedings but a spokesperson said, “Google does take fraud issues very seriously.”

A site Bradley apparently set up to promote Google Clique, now taken down, said “we have been able to generate in excess of $30,000 per month using Google Clique across 10 Adsense account [sic].” The site also boasted that Clique employs a tunneling technology used by spammers to hide their IP addresses.

According to the complaint, Bradley contacted Google by email on March 2, offering to sell the company auto-click software he had originally developed for a client who now refused to pay.

Google’s Marty Lev, manager of safety and security, contacted the U.S. Secret Service after receiving the email. The company set up a meeting with Bradley for March 10, but had audio and video equipment taping the conversation. A Secret Service agent monitored from the next room.

During that meeting, Bradley said that if Google didn’t pay him $100,000, he would sell it to the “top 100 spammers,” and Google would be “out $5 million in six months,” according to the complaint.

Someone posting on Google Groups’ alt.internet.search-engines group using Bradley’s email address offered to sell the auto-click software, claiming he’d met with Google and “they are scared and don’t want this software to get out.”

Upon being chastised by others, the poster explained that he was frustrated with Google because the company had cancelled a check made out to his friend, an AdSense publisher, due to suspicion of fraud.

“I really just want them to listen and learn how to track real fraudulent clicks (trust me they dont [sic]) Google is still on such an amatuer [sic] level when it comes to click tracking,” wrote ‘CountScubula’. “Thus my countless meetings with them, I am not going to educate the engineers for free on this, especial when my friend got screwed. Perhaps if they were to show proof of invalid clicks, that wouls [sic] be fine, but to just slam a door on the kid, thats [sic] not right.

“Its funny, because Google is a big company, every one assumes they know what they are doing. And my meetings with the engineers left me wondering who these people knew for thier [sic] jobs, becouse [sic] it wasn’t knowledge or experience.”

Bradley also had plans, according to the complaint, to release a program called “Reaper” which users could employ to generate automatic clicks on their competitors’ Web sites. But with Reaper, all of the automatic clicks would be from one IP address, so it would presumably raise Google’s suspicions and prompt the company to kick the site out of its AdSense program.

Bradley has been released on a $50,000 appearance bond and on the condition he refrain from using any computer or the Internet and avoid all contact with Google. His next court appearance is set for April 8.

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